Southeast Faculty to Present Biofeedback Study at National Convention

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., March 11, 2011 – A study completed by Southeast Missouri State University faculty members Dr. Ken Callis and Dr. Nancy Aguinaga at Cottonwood Residential Treatment Center in Cape Girardeau has been selected for presentation at an American Psychological Association national convention in August in Washington, D.C.

The study, which investigates computer-assisted biofeedback and relaxation techniques on behavior change of people with chronic behavior disorders, has been ongoing for more than a year with Cottonwood’s residents.  To date they have worked with eight residents, and they plan to begin working with the remaining residents in the next few weeks.

Computer-assisted biofeedback is a technique through which individuals can learn to control physiological functions controlled by the autonomic nervous system and uses a computer-based, self-management program to monitor their status.

The residents are monitored with a non-invasive form of biofeedback, using a finger or an ear sensor to acquire data while having choices to see different screens being displayed and practicing different relaxation techniques to see how their bodies respond.  They may also play games that are controlled by related changes in stress; their performance in the game is directly related to their control. The system not only measures heart rhythm but also coherence and entrainment, which is used to describe two or more waves in coherence.

“These physiological systems can include the heart’s rhythmic patterns, brain, nervous, respiration, and blood pressure rhythms, and are considered automatic functions of the body,” said Aguinaga, , assistant professor of elementary, early and special education at Southeast. “Increased physiological coherence is associated with improved cognitive performance, emotional balance, mental clarity, and other health outcomes.”

Residents undergoing the treatments have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, attention deficit disorder, schizophrenia or obsessive compulsive disorder and suffer from severe emotional and behavioral problems with difficulty in self-regulating behavior.

“Physical and verbal aggression with children and adults is a primary problem in treatment centers.  We wanted to provide new tools and coping mechanisms for staff and residents,” said Callis, professor of psychology at Southeast.

The study is showing positive results.  Post-intervention data reflects that the patients tested thus far have made gains in self-control and demonstrated lower occurrences of physical and verbal aggression, possibly leading to higher levels of personal and social functioning.

“The project is continuing, and we do not have ‘final numbers,’ but preliminary data suggests teaching these relaxation techniques is helpful in decreasing negative events,” Callis said.

“We have found positive results and ultimately provided the participants and staff at Cottonwood self-regulation training,” added Aguinaga.

Aguinaga said she began conducting research using computer-assisted biofeedback nine years ago.  Callis said he decided to join Aguinaga in her work after attending a presentation she made at the Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment. The two decided to work together and use the research and techniques to benefit those diagnosed with chronic behavior disorder.

“We saw it as an opportunity to collaborate and implement the intervention with individuals who could really benefit,” Aguinaga said.  “Dr. Callis thought Cottonwood would be a great place to conduct a study.”